Why it is important to work with a Specialist for your Estate Planning Needs

Michelle Beneski, Managing Partner at Surprenant & Beneski, PC, CELA, LLM Taxation 

As many of you know, my brother Dan, who is also my partner here at the firm, recently had a heart attack which was followed by a quadruple bypass. We were all greatly comforted knowing that he was in the hands of the excellent thoracic team at Charlton Memorial in Fall River. The heart, being a complex organ, is vital to our very survival. With something as important as a heart, no one could imagine Dan being treated by a general surgeon or a primary care physician. Instead, he was treated by a team of surgeons who had spent years of training to perform such specialized, delicate surgery. When something is that important, we should always seek specialists because their knowledge and experience improves the odds of a successful outcome.

Here at Surprenant & Beneski, P.C., we are specialists in estate planning, elder law, estate tax planning and asset protection.  Much like the heart, these are complex and vital parts of the law that involve both very personal and essential issues for families.  Laws are complex and constantly changing.  In order to properly assist our clients, we stay on the cutting-edge of the law to deepen our knowledge and expertise.

We help guide families through some of the most stressful times of their lives that include issues such as: 

  • How to be able to care for someone when they are ill without the need for court intervention;
  • How to protect the property they worked so hard for from creditors, long term care costs and taxes;
  • How to pass on your property in an efficient manner without probate and with the least amount of taxes.

Much like a heart surgeon, Dan and I have years of additional training and we are both Certified Elder Law Attorneys (CELA).  Being a CELA is to be accredited by the National Elder Law Foundation and it is also the only elder law specialist designation recognized by the American Bar Association. Dan and I are 2 of only of 25 CELAs in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as of 2020.  In order to receive this designation, we have had to have at least 5 years of experience in elder law and estate planning (we now each have over 15 years of experience); we passed a rigorous 2 day exam that has a less than 50% passing rate; also, we are recertified every 5 years to  prove that we continue to operate primarily in this area of the law and continue to develop our knowledge base. 

Medicaid rules, probate laws, trust laws are complicated and frequently change. If an attorney doesn’t specialize to keep up with these changes, it is very easy to make a costly mistake.  It is unfortunate, but we regularly see people who thought they were all set… until something goes terribly wrong.  Sometimes we can help get things back on track but in some cases, it is just too late.  Our goal for our clients and their families is to put in place a great plan that works now and, in the future, when you need it.  Being specialists gives us the ability to do that.  Seeing a specialist gives you the comfort of knowing you are in capable and knowledgeable hands. 

Our Legal Team of Specialists

As part of my education, I received a Masters of Law (LLM) in taxation. Estate planning and asset protect often involve dealing with real estate, retirement accounts and other assets.  Estate plans need to consider the income, estate and capital gains tax effects.  Without this knowledge, for example, a plan could protect a home from a Medicaid lien but cause significantly higher capital gains tax to be due on the sale of the house.  The federal government recently passed the SECURE Act which dramatically changes the rules surrounding retirement accounts.  Our expertise allows us to assist clients, helping them to understand the impact of the law on themselves, their family and their estate plan.  A general practitioner is unlikely to have the education and experience to navigate the complex intersection of taxes, asset protection and estate planning.  Seeing a specialist gives you confidence that there won’t be an unpleasant tax surprise in your future

Another attorney on our team is Erin Nunes. She is the lead for our Medicaid Planning practice. This is the area that specializes in supporting clients in obtaining MassHealth eligibility to cover the cost of a long-term stay in a Skilled Nursing Facility. The process of applying for and obtaining eligibility is complex and over-whelming. With over 15 years of experience at our firm, Erin is a passionate advocate for seniors and their families who need to seek MassHealth coverage while being able to preserve assets. Erin leads a dedicated team that has intimate knowledge of the Nursing Home Medicaid application process and can help families navigate the system and achieve eligibility. As this often happens unexpectedly, it can be a difficult and trying experience for families at a very emotional time. Erin and her team help to ease the burden so families can focus on their loved ones’ well-being.      

Dan Surprenant specializes in Special Needs planning.  Special needs planning focuses on assisting disabled individuals and parents of dependent children with disabilities.  Many young and adult-age children with disabilities are incapable of caring for themselves. Their future quality of life depends on their parents’ abilities and desire to structure an estate plan the provides for them and allows them to qualify or continue to qualify for government benefits. For a disabled person who needs government benefits, receiving an inheritance in the “wrong” way can cause more harm then good. Because of this risk, many families disinherit the disabled person. The family may still worry about who will be there to care for and look after their disabled child.  How will all the “extras” that they provide for their child be provided for in the future? A general practitioner isn’t likely to have the knowledge and experience necessary to be able to answer these questions.  Dan is skilled in counselling families on how to provide for a disabled loved one in a manner that maintains government benefits and enhances the loved one’s quality of life. 

Dan is a member of the Special Needs Alliance.  The Special Needs Alliance (SNA) is a national organization comprised of attorneys committed to the practice of disability and public benefits law. The SNA is an invitation-only organization. SNA membership is based on a combination of relevant legal experience in the disability and elder law fields, direct family experience with disability, active participation with national, state and local disability advocacy organizations, and professional reputation. As a result, an SNA member will have an average of 18 years of relevant legal experience, with no member having practiced law for less than 5 years.

Why are we specialists?

Specializing is, in our opinion, the best way we can serve our clients.  By specializing, we have the education and experience necessary to guide our clients through the complex world of estate planning, elder law and asset protection.  

How does specializing help our clients? 

Our specialization gives us the skills necessary to assist our clients with complex issues such as asset protection, estate tax minimization, long term care planning, MassHealth qualification, and probate avoidance.  When something is important to you, you want a specialist because then you know you are getting the most qualified professional.  This gives clients confidence and comfort.  Specialists improve the odds of a successful outcome.

Disclaimer ©Surprenant & Beneski, P.C. 35 Arnold Street, New Bedford, MA 02740, 336 South Street, Hyannis MA 02601 and 45 Bristol Drive, Easton MA 02375. This article is for illustration purposes only. This handout does not constitute legal advice. There is no attorney/client relationship created with Surprenant & Beneski, P.C. by this article. DO NOT make decisions based upon information in this handout. Every family is unique and legal advice can only be given after an individual consultation with an elder law attorney. Any decisions made without proper legal advice may cause significant legal and financial problems